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Gleemax is Dead…is WOTC feeling OK?

OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve here, but Wizard’s of the Coast’s version of MySpace, better known as Gleemax, is officially dead.  I got the word over at Chatty DM’s yesterday.  And, the thing is, I’m a bit sad it didn’t work out for WOTC.  Yeah, I’m no fan of 4th Edition, but that doesn’t mean I want to see the company fail.  I’ve been a big fan of D&D since the TSR days, and I used to play Magic too.  That game was a lot of fun as well.  WOTC has brought a lot of fun into my life between those two games they own, so why would I wish them ill?

The idea behind Gleemax is a good one, only that could work if developed properly.  I never spent any time there, so damned if I know what all the problems were, but apparently there were plenty.  It’s a shame too, because a MySpace without the cliquey “popularity” BS that was designed for and by gamers would be a blast as well as beneficial to the gaming community.  As things stand, it’s mostly a bunch of disconnected blogs and forums with links between one another.  A Gleemax could serve as a central hub of all that, and provide hundreds of other gamers with their own voice.

In possibly related news, WOTC is shutting down all novels not D&D or Magic.  I say “possibly related” because, according to WOTC, Gleemax is being shut down for non-economic reasons, but I can’t help but think that, despite the surge in sales of 4th Edition, something is wrong at WOTC.  Of course, they could also be focusing on their core brands in an effort to prevent a recession from affecting them (or is it effecting?  I always get those confused).  It’ll be interesting to see what will happen.  For what it’s worth, I only wish Wizard’s of the Coast the best of luck.  Luckily, being owned by Hasbro will help them, but only so much.

Here’s hoping for a brighter future.

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July 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I Got Skillz

One of the biggest divides between us 3rd Edition folks and the 4th Edition people can be found over the issue of skills. 4th Edition streamlined the skills a great deal, and for some of us, that’s not a good thing. Now, I’m not trying to bring back that debate. After all, to each their own and all that stuff. However, skills can be an important part of your character.

One problem that most classed based systems have is the idea that a certain class has “X” skills. Fighters can intimidate, wizards and clerics have the knowledge stuff, and rogues are just jack of all trades. The question you should ask yourself is…why? What do you do for a living. Now ask yourself, do I only have those skills necessary for my job? My guess is probably not.

For example, I work as a subject matter exert on inventory control. As an SME, it would be easy to assume I only know inventory control. However, I’m also a student of history (love the subject). I’ve also studied medieval armor as a specialty. I’m a passable writer (at least Mom says so). I’m also a backpacker and avid shooter. None of these things add anything at all to my profession.

Why do I mention my interests? Simple…your character is more than a sword jockey or a spell slinger. He or she needs to feel alive. When skills are one dimensional, then the character becomes more difficult to bring to life. Can you do it? Sure. However, skill mechanics is one way the game gives us to add depth to those character.

So, how do you do it? When you write your character’s background up (you are writing his or her background, right?), include a little bit about some unusual skills. Perhaps your fighter trained under the Master at Arms of a powerful wizard, so you picked up a bit of arcane knowledge, or studied as a cleric for a time before taking up arms for a living. Perhaps your wizard spent time on the streets as a pick pocket before being caught red handed by a great wizard who recognized the greatness within.

Taking unusual skills is yet another way to create a character that’s memorable and fun to play! Try it…you just may like it! 😉

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Character Emotions, Player Expressions

Every character has some kind of emotions. They laugh, they cry, they definitely get angry at evil dragons who eat their friends. The question is, do you show these emotions as a player? In the gaming circles I’ve run in, there’s one moment that is passed along in hushed, reverent tones.

A fellow player wanted to play a new character, so he needed his old character to die. As a result, the DM had me put on a cursed item that forced my character to kill his own brother (the other player’s character). After the deed was done, the cursed item was removed and I saw what I had done. In game, as well as around the table, I collapsed on my knees and cried. Then, in a combination of tears and anger, swore to avenge my brother’s death!

Now, it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn here, and to some extent I am. However, the reason it is spoken of in this way was so few players really express their character’s emotions. One doesn’t need to be capable of winning an Oscar to let their emotions fly in game. As the GM (since this works for any system) is describing the scene, think about the necessary emotion. Is it fear, anger, sympathy, what do you need to do. Now, once that is decided, recall those feelings from your life experience. You have all the necessary tools, even if you don’t believe it.

Say, for example, you’re a really happy guy who’s never been angry at a single person you know. How can you recall anger then? Well, there’s definitely been some time when you were angry at something. If not something massive like 9/11, then perhaps when your dog pooped on the carpet. Most everyone experiences every emotion at some point, so why not use that to add some splash to your next game? Try it. You might be surprised by what your fellow gamers think!

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Race Race

Ever play with those guys who seem to want to play the exotic races of whatever D&D world the campaign is in, and never the normal, every day ones? I have, and what makes it worse is when they have difficulty playing a human, and still insist on playing the exotic races. On top of that, a recent forum post over and Pen and Paper Games this is discussed a fair amount and it’s amazing the number of people who have moved away from core races as time has rolled on.

Now, obviously, my brand of fun isn’t the same as everyone else’s. But my question is, to the players, why? And to the DMs, why allow it?

Even with the introduction of 4th Edition, the core races have enough “cool” in them to keep someone busy for quite some time. Also, the role play is regardless of race…or at least it mostly is, so why play something odd and unusual when you can do the same thing within the framework of the core rules? Of course, by way of answering my own question, one reason to do it is that it can open up some role play opportunities. For example, playing a drow should put the player in situations where they are attacked on sight and only his/her companions can calm the crowd down that this isn’t an evil drow!

As for DMs who allow this, again I have to ask why? Obviously, homebrew worlds will have some odd races. Mine has minotaurs, so I can relate. To that world, they’re core though. However, I’ve played with tons of DMs who say “if you can find it, I’ll let you play it” and while it was cool back then, now it kind of bugs me. After all, you’ll have to have every race on your world to make this plausible, and frankly some of them might not fit with your world concept.

Now, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s fun here, but I honestly don’t see the fun in playing an odd race. Instead, all I see are the advantages that one can seize and create uber-characters. Frankly, I’ll admit that maybe the guys I’ve played with over the years has colored my opinion, but power gamers love these races, especially with inexperienced DMs who use the “if you can find it, you can play it” rule. They can run roughshod over the DM with something that the DM is unfamiliar with.

As I now seem to have more people reading this blog than just my Mom, I’d love to hear your opinions. What races do you play, and if they aren’t core races (and please mention what edition so I can tell what’s core and what’s not 😉 ), why do you play them? I’d really like to get some serious input here, so comment away!

July 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Party Versus a Group of Folks

I think part of the division in the D&D community between 3.5 and 4e may boil down to this simple preference. Some prefer the idea of a party over a group of individuals, and some prefer it the other way. While many of the rules are annoying to me, they could easily be house ruled and make 4.0 a game that would be worth trying for my group. However, it’s the emphasis that I think gets people fired up. Now, while I’m not a 4e lover by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s important to understand where it’s coming from and why.

Most D&D is played with a group. Solo and two person campaigns happen all the time, but usually they are secondary to the “big game” for most groups. As such, WotC decided to make the game more about the party. Is this bad? It really depends on your style of play. I read in an interview where one of the developers said that while rogues get all these skill points, they’re expected to blow 2/3rds of them on a specific set of skills (typical thief skills), so they revamped the system so they wouldn’t have to do that. Granted, it still depends on the rogue having these skills, but the cost is less.

On the other hand, my groups have always had a tendency to create each character in a vacuum. No one knows what your character’s skill set is until the game has started. This prevents players being urged to take specific skills to appease the rest of the group. Now, this creates problems. For example, your party’s rogue could be more of a con man than a disable traps kinda guy. This creates a less than ideal situation when you’re in a dark and scary dungeon and need to disable the pit trap before the whole party falls the hundred or so feet to their deaths.

4e is about the party over individuals within a group context. This isn’t necessarily bad either. For example, if the campaign is based on the hook of a military commander selecting a group of people to carry out a mission, he would try to fit together a party that functioned as a party rather than two fighters, a ranger, and a wizard that gets called a “party”. On the other hand, it can also feel a bit contrived when four people who randomly meet in a tavern fit together like cogs in a clock. Sure, it can happen, but after a few times, it feels off to me.

Of course, understanding this principle may make it easier to understand why some people love 4e and some don’t. Perhaps if we all made the effort, some of this animosity would die a horrible death.

July 23, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | Leave a comment

So…where are you from?

Character backgrounds are one of my recent developments as a player, and one I can’t imagine how I lived without before.  Sure, most of us do the “he’s a fighter who served in the King’s army before striking out on his own in search of fame and fortune”, but can’t we do better than that?  Now, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that character concept, but why not flesh it out a bit?

No one just spontaneously appears, so let’s make the most of it.  What is his/her parents like?  Where they even around?  How did the relationship with the parents affect the way he/she turned out?  Thinking about these things can greatly change the shape and style of any character.  Perhaps he’s an orphan who has a weak spot for other orphans, or his father killed his mother and now he can’t comprehend doing violence against a woman.  Any number of things can create great role play opportunities.

Something else to think about is where did you get your equipment?  After all, serving in the King’s army didn’t necessarily outfit you.  Issued weapons would need to be turned in after all.  Coming up with a plausible story for acquiring all those goodies should be an exercise in creativity all by itself, but a good hook could come out of something like that as well.

A good character background can give your DM a chance to really draw your character in, and also help him provide plausible motivation for your character to do something.  Going to the Magic Palace is all fine and good, but going to the Magic Palace to find information on the murder of your father is just to juicy to pass up.

Here are a few rules I try to follow when creating a background that may help you out as well:

  1. Parents had to have been somewhere, even if the character doesn’t know where.  Explain what the character knows of them early in the background.
  2. Try to be realistic and somewhat normal.  While having a father who’s a powerful wizard isn’t a stretch, saying your father was best friends with the King and all the gold dragons in the world is far, far to much.
  3. Humble origins are the most common, but they can be tweaked in thousands of ways to make them unique.
  4. Give the DM some friends of your characters, and even possible enemies.  I have a character who is seeking the murderer of his wife…who just happens to be a significant bad guy now.
  5. Be somewhat vague.  Saying a character is seeking the killer of his wife gives the DM lots of leeway to fit your backstory into the campaign.  Saying he’s looking for Jaques Mollins, the highwayman known for wearing purple forces the DM to either ignore this, or create a character just for this part of your character.  DMs have enough to do.
  6. Unless you know the world already or can easily get the information, don’t name a specific town as a birthplace.  This is mostly for those playing in homebrew worlds, but can be important for any player.  Working with the DM to find a suitable location helps him out a great deal, and still gives you the specifics you crave.
  7. Provide adventuring motivation other than greed.  To many times, players are adventuring for wealth and/or power and a lot of times it’s been played out.  Giving him something more personal than mercenary attitudes will make the character that much more special.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (or Britney Spears’ head for that matter), but this is what I personally do and it seems to work pretty well so far.  From my experience, DMs love it, though I can imagine that a pure hack-and-slash DM might not appreciate the work.  Still, at worst you’ll have a better grasp on the character, something that’s never a bad thing!

July 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Good Stats Rock!

OK, congratulate me! I just won the “No Shit Sherlock” award for blog post titles. However, it’s important to remember that I’m right ;). Now, I’m not talking about giving a fighter great strength, or a rogue good dexterity, those are a normal use of good stats. What I’m advocating is something different. Below, I’ll outline a few examples for ya.

  1. Bardek is a rogue. Like most rogues, he’s quick and agile. However, unlike many rogues, he’s known in the thieves guild for his incredible wisdom. In fact, he’s avoided falling pray to many enchanted traps that would beguile lesser minds.
  2. Merrick is a fighter. Born on the farm, he grew up big and strong. However, he’s as smart as many mages of the realm!
  3. Philamond is one of the great wizards of the realms. He’s capable of magics that that make the earth tremble. With all that in mind, it’s easy to overlook that he’s as strong as an ox!

All of these character concepts are unusual, because they don’t fit the stereotypical mold of what a particular classes strengths and weaknesses are. Coupling odd strong stats with odd weak stats can go a long way toward creating someone memorable in your campaign. Now, take these concepts and mold some role playing concepts on top of them and you’re way ahead of the role play curve!

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 7 Comments

Bad Stats Rock!

Yep, I said it. The one thing that makes a power game cringe in his sleep! I actually like bad stats occasionally. I’ll take a low intelligence, or a low strength, or some other stat that’s not typically a “dump” stat, and have a field day with it. Of course, my play style almost demands it. Now, obviously you don’t want nothing but bad stats, because then the character is just incompetent, though that could be fun too. But a strategically placed bad stat can create some very cool characters.

Why low stats? Simple…role play opportunity. A low stat often will make a character stand out more than a typically min-maxed character. For example, a good friend of mine created a character named Oo-goo, a barbarian with an intelligence score just slightly above fungi. The player is very smart, but he wanted to play a dumb character, and he played it well. In fact, this friend is still called Oo-goo at my house from time to time.

Now, a barbarian with a low intelligence doesn’t sound like a stretch, but for a smart player who likes to be involved, it is. In the interest of playing in character and taking his INT score into account, he felt he shouldn’t solve any of the riddles or puzzles except by accident (and it really was by accident). Frankly, it worked! Oo-goo was a great character with personality out the wazoo that is remembered by everyone who played in that campaign!

Another fighter-type with low intelligence was Plow, a dwarven fighter. Plow got his name from the great sword he carried on his back that dug a trench everywhere he went. Again, he wasn’t bright at all, per a low INT score. For the player, he tried a different tact than Oo-goo. Plow had bought a pet duck somewhere along the way, and named it “Duckie”. Whenever Plow did something smart, he credited Duckie for the idea. Duckie actually became the party’s mascot in most ways (though never officially) and was a blast to play in the same campaign with. While technically the actions were out of character, it was explained away in a fun and memorable way, which is what really matters.

Taking a low stat and putting it into something more important to your character than INT can create some interesting possibilities. For example, a fighter with a low DEX. Perhaps he’s a big farm boy who is very strong and tough, but because of his build, he’s not the most agile person out there by anyone’s estimation. Perhaps a rogue with a low CON, because of all the time spent in the town sewers, he’s sickly. Or a wizard with a low wisdom (thereby affecting his will save) due to the time he spent as a slave, he wasn’t allowed to do a lot of thinking for himself and kowtows easily. How about a rogue that can’t lie to save his life?

No one is perfect, so why should your characters? Even the greatest heroes in fiction are less than perfect. Drizz’t is a freaking DROW living on the surface for Gygax’s sake! Why not add flaws to your character? While it may make it more difficult to play and be great at everything, it adds realism and fun! In time, you may find creative ways to use the flaw to actually accomplish your goal!

With your next character, try giving them a bad stat that isn’t a typical “dump” stat. You may find the character to be a hell of a lot of fun that way!

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

The Dark Knight Review

Batman Begins is my all-time favorite comic book movie. The gritty realism really brought the whole story home for me in a way that no other movie ever could. A fantastic cast rounded out the first one, and made it a memorable film for all times. When I heard that they were indeed doing a sequel, I was both overjoyed and concerned. How could they ever top the greatness that was the first film? The answer? Heath Ledger.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’re well aware that Heath Ledger passed away due to a tragic accidental drug overdose. What you don’t realize is that this role was an absolute masterpiece of work that frankly would be impossible to top. Playing a very different Joker than Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero, Ledger created one of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever seen in a film. In truth, he takes the top spot in my scariest bad guys top ten away from Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. He creates a truly terrifying force, a polar opposite of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. I’ve heard lots of Oscar talk about Leger’s role, and now I see why.

What gets lost in the wake that was Heath Ledger’s performance is all the other great performances. Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhal all have great performances that truly make The Dark Knight one of the best acted films I’ve personally ever seen. I’m a big fan of director Christopher Nolan’s, and he didn’t disappoint me at all with the performances he once again gets out of his cast.

About the only criticism I can lay down is that the story felt like it should have ended sooner, though in my humble opinion, that passed soon enough and I was grateful for more film. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you should go now. Seriously…right now! Come on readers (OK…I know it’s just you Mom, but still…GO!!)

Seriously, this is a great movie and Ledger’s final full performance is worth every penny of ticket price. However, this may not be a good choice to see with small children. While my son tolerated it fine, he’s used to being traumatized. After all…I’m his father. Only you can judge whether your kids can handle this one. You, on the other hand, can, so go and you can thank me later.

July 20, 2008 Posted by | Movies | | Leave a comment

The Right Way to Have Fun

Recent posts at Critical Hits and Chatty DM had me thinking I should post this too. After all, my reader may find this useful (hi Mom!). I’ve been pretty hard on 4th Edition, and with what I think is good reason. Some of the changes were, in my opinion, answers to questions that I hadn’t heard anybody ask. But you know what? Someone was asking them! No two groups have the same approach to playing any RPG and no system supports every play style out there.

I’ve made no secret that I’ll be sticking with 3.5 for the foreseeable future. It fits my play style better than 4th Edition, and while 2nd Edition did too, 3rd Edition incorporated all the house rules we had been using for years already, so why go back? It does not mean that if you like 4th Edition, you’re the anti-christ and want to devour the souls of small children and puppies…well not necessarily anyways. It means you like a different game than me. Is it really that different than people who like D&D and people who like GURPS? Both a different systems. The only difference is that 3.5 used to be the D&D system, and like it or not, WOTC has decided 4th Edition is the future. So be it.

One knock against 4th Edition that I want to address right here and now is that 4th Edition doesn’t allow role play. First, that’s total bull. Some DMs might not, but that’s another story entirely. Nothing in the mechanics for 4th Edition prevents role play. Now, I find the mechanics support a style of role play that I find distasteful, making it harder to create unusual characters with skills within the mechanic, but that doesn’t prevent role play at all. Say you play a Tiefling fighter. How does the rules say you have to play them? It doesn’t! It could be as a tiefling who dispises what his ancestors did and strives to right any wrong to atone for the sins of the past, or as one who thinks his ancestors were on to something and hopes to build a great empire for his kind on the bones off all who oppose them.

Role play is not dead in 4th Edition folks. It’s not even sick. It is not, however, good for my style of role play. It doesn’t make 4th Edition wrong or 3.5 right. It makes them a bit different! That’s all!

So, to folks on both sides of the argument, SHUT THE HELL UP! WE’RE SICK OF HEARING HOW YOU’RE RIGHT AND EVERYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH YOU IS WRONG!

Now…let’s go have some fun 😉

July 20, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | 2 Comments